Jaton Video-107AGP 3D graphics cardReview date: 13 July 1999.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
The mid-range graphics card is an endangered species. Once upon a time (like, for example, about a year ago...), there were low-end cards that were fine for basic office stuff on a smallish monitor, and there were super-powered cards that supported outrageous resolutions and did fast 3D as well, and there were mid-range cards that could play a game or two and drive a good-sized monitor, but didn't cost the hundreds and hundreds of dollars (Australian; U.S. readers substitute "fifties and fifties of dollars") that you needed to play with the big boys.
This middle category is blurring badly into the upper one, though. For instance, 8Mb TNT cards are on sale now for well under $200 Australian. The plain TNT is the nVidia graphics chipset that came before the current TNT2. It powers, for instance, the Diamond Viper V550 I review here. The original TNT is basically the same as TNT2, only slower. It's capable of playing all current 3D games at more than acceptable speed and resolution (Quake 2 is smooth as silk in 1024 by 768, 16 bit colour, on a plain TNT driven by any better-than-400MHz processor), and it'll continue to give a good account of itself as software demands rise.
So where does this leave the under-$150 mid-range market? Unless a mid-range product has performance proportional to its price, relative to cut price older model supercards like TNTs, it becomes a rather unattractive proposition. The boring business buyer who just wants something that'll put a minimally flickery image of Microsoft Office on a 15 inch screen will be buying cards that cost $70 or less, and may well have miserable 3D performance, but will never be called upon to show it. Meanwhile, anyone who cares about 3D performance, or wants to run a huge monitor, will be happy to save up a few more bucks for a lot more performance.
The Jaton challenger
It's into this perilous part of the graphics card market that Jaton is trying to insert their Video-107AGP. The 107 is an AGP 2X card with 8Mb of RAM, and it uses Trident's relatively unknown Blade 3D 9880 chipset. It retails for $110 (Australian dollars). This puts it at roughly two-thirds the current price of a cheap OEM 8Mb TNT, or a bit less than half the price of a new OEM Diamond Viper V770, which is a workmanlike low-cost 16Mb TNT2 board which I review in my comparison here.
For your $110, the Jaton card gives you an imposing list of features. But there's not a 3D-capable card on the market that doesn't come with a page of buzzwords about its back face and slope calculation and its triangle setup engine and its hardware assisted MPEG-II playback. A card can have all of the stuff it needs to draw frames in a 3D game that look as pretty as those drawn by a cutting-edge card - the 107 passes the test here; its 3D image quality is fine - but unless it can paint enough of those pretty frames per second, it won't be worth buying.
What you get
In the 107's box there's the card itself (an unremarkable looking slimline AGP board), the main software CD, and a very skinny getting-started guide. There's a proper manual on the CD. You also get a demo copy of the quiz game You Don't Know Jack 2, which is fun until you become familiar with the mere 42 questions it includes - half of which are from the Sports edition, which is frequently incomprehensible to those of us who come from countries where gridiron and baseball aren't prime time fare.
The 107's main driver CD has a little spare space on it, which is filled up by Sega's Touring Car Championship. This is clearly the free Sega 3D bundle-in game that Jaton's presently sticking on every disc it stamps - it used to be Virtua Fighter 2. Touring Car Championship doesn't actually appear to support 3D acceleration at all, though. So it's definitely worth what you pay for it.
Installing the Video-107AGP was as easy as installing any other well-behaved AGP board. Yes, folks, you will need an AGP slot, not to mention an AGP-aware operating system like the final version of Windows 95, or any version of 98. I yanked my old (AGP) graphics card, popped the Jaton in, turned the computer back on and told it where to find the drivers on the included CD. If you're upgrading from a PCI graphics card you may need to change to the standard Windows VGA driver in order to effect the changeover without having to deal with Safe Mode restarts.
The CD comes with drivers for Windows 95 and 98, not to mention drivers for pretty much every other graphics card Jaton currently make.
But, I'm afraid, the 107 drivers suck.
Though not for 2D graphics. The Video-107AGP will cheerfully pump out 1600 by 1200 in 16 bit colour, although only at a 60Hz refresh rate. It can manage a more than acceptable 85Hz in the more generally useful 1280 by 1024 - which is the highest resolution you can clearly display on the average 19 inch monitor, anyway.
There's an undocumented "OpenGL" subdirectory in the 107's directory on the software CD, which contains an alternative Windows driver which, I hoped, would let me play my beloved Quake 2. Nope; this driver's clearly undocumented for a reason. It doesn't do OpenGL or 2D properly. It crashed all over the place for OpenGL when I tried it, and all sorts of amusing screen-drawing errors happened in Windows. I didn't bother trying Direct3D.
Jaton's driver download site didn't have anything better on offer, and so I was all set to say that all sane shoppers should avoid this card like the plague. Then I discovered that you can get proper drivers for the Video-107AGP. Just not from Jaton.
Trident, the manufacturer of the chipset, have drivers here that work perfectly with the 107, and, armed with these I finally got around to doing a benchmark or two.
The Video-107AGP's 2D performance is excellent. This is not a point in its favour, though, because it's pretty much impossible to buy a new graphics card these days that isn't blindingly fast for 2D. Years ago, "Windows accelerated" graphics cards were a big thing, because they cut down on the waiting while sluggish Windows apps drew their complicated button-filled windows. These days, any significant pauses you experience in the window-drawing procedure are caused by applications being slow to tell the graphics card what they want (usually because Windows is busy flogging itself to death, as is its wont), and not by any shortcomings on the card's part.
My favourite quick and dirty benchmarking program, WinTune 98, reported the 107's 2D performance as 75 megapixels per second on my 450MHz overclocked Celeron system. This puts it at about 73% of the speed of the fully overclocked, ported and polished ASUS V3800 Ultra. But, as mentioned above, if all you want is 2D then pretty much any card will suit you, as long as you're not running a 21 inch or larger monitor. And if you are, then dropping a couple of hundred extra bucks on a video card is unlikely to bother you.
For 3D, the Video-107AGP's performance is a lot less exciting. WinTune reported its performance in 1024 by 768, 16 bit colour as 56.5 megapixels per second for Direct3D, and 45.7 megapixels per second for OpenGL. This puts it at roughly half, and roughly a quarter, of the speed of the high-spec V3800 Ultra. Which is about four times the 107's price, so you'd blooming well want it to be faster. But the Ultra board is only about 25% faster than the OEM Viper V770, and that card costs only about twice as much as the Jaton. TNT2s will be down to $200 Australian soon enough.
Getting back down into the Jaton's price range at the moment, though, a plain 8Mb TNT card can be had for maybe $60 Australian more than the 107. This will deliver Quake 2 framerates of 30 to 35 frames per second in 1024 by 768 mode, 16 bit colour, if it's driven by a 450MHz Pentium-II class processor, like my overclocked Celeron, or like the super-fast off-the-shelf Celerons you can buy today. It'll only barely dip below 30 frames per second even when tortured by the famous Crusher demo. Crusher gives you a good idea of the worst-case-scenario multiplayer frame rate you'll get when everything starts happening at once - which is when a low frame rate will do you the most harm. As a rule of thumb, 30 frames per second is the sweet spot; more is nice, but the difference between 20 and 30 frames per second is much more noticeable than the difference between 30 and 45.
In the Crusher demo, at 1024 by 768 and 16 bit colour, the Video-107AGP scored a frankly miserable 11 frames per second. For the far less demanding demo2.dm2, it only managed 14 frames per second. This isn't fast enough to be fun.
Cut down to 640 by 480, the 107 scored a more respectable 19 and 28 frames per second, respectively; this means it's fine for single-player OpenGL or Direct3D games in 640 by 480, and not too bad for multiplayer. Winding the resolution all the way down to 320 by 240 gave 40 frames per second in demo2, but only 23 for Crusher - not nearly enough improvement to justify the chunky retro-DOOM look of the very low resolution.
This isn't a terrible graphics card, but it's competing with some very impressive superseded hardware that doesn't cost very much more. If you're looking to pay not much more than $100 Australian for your graphics hardware and you're not a serious 3D game player, a 107 with the Trident drivers will work fine. It's perfectly game-capable in 640 by 480 (more tolerant players might even attempt 800 by 600), and in 2D it can pump out results as good as any card can manage on a less-than-$2500 monitor.
The Jaton might be a cheap card, but it's not nasty; Jaton gear is always well made, against the hang-the-board-on-the-wall-and-throw-solder-at-it construction techniques apparently favoured by some low cost video card makers.
But, when you get right down to it, the Video-107AGP is two-thirds the price of a card that's two to three times faster for 3D.
So if you're after a budget gaming card, you should save your pennies for a cheap TNT. And if all you want is 2D, $70 will see you right with one of the S3-chipset cheapies, or an nVidia Riva 128-based board like Jaton's own Video-78AGP. There's a market for the Video-107 at this price, but it's a narrow segment, and it's getting narrower all the time.
Review card provided by Jaton Technology, Australia, phone (03) 9873 3999.